One of the most vivid Winter Olympic memories for many Americans is the United States’ “Miracle On Ice” win against the Soviet Union in 1980. The U.S. men’s hockey team has not won a gold medal since that game 38 years ago, but hockey still remains one of the most popular events during the games. So when the National Hockey League (NHL) announced last year that its players could not compete in the PyeongChang Olympics, current and former players did not waste any time voicing their displeasure with the NHL’s statement:
The way this story played out did not shine a good light on the NHL. There was valid reasoning behind the decision: the Olympics would force a 17-day break in the current season, a fan survey showed the majority of fans in the U.S. and Canada were not in favor of the break and clubs did not want to risk their players getting mid-season injuries. The NHL should have anticipated player reaction and responded appropriately, but their attempts didn’t work. It left the average fan confused and the players unhappy. The public relations team took an understandable decision and made it seem dramatic and unnecessary.
As Russian hockey star Alex Ovechkin said, it is hard to believe that players were forced to choose between team and country. The way the NHL handled this situation made most people either confused or upset. Looking ahead to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, one can only hope that the NHL will reconsider allowing athletes to play for their countries, or at least treat its players with more respect in decisions and statements.
Though the men’s team, mostly comprised of junior and college level players, did not win, the women’s team won gold. So even though the NHL players were disappointed, at least hockey is still golden for the U.S.